Stamberg Aferiat Architecture is a New York-based studio with a broad portfolio of schools, museums, galleries, showrooms and private houses. Mixing the crisp steel-framed aesthetic of high American Modernism with the zinging colours of Miami Deco and 1980s Po-Mo, Peter Stamberg and Paul Aferiat have carved a individualistic niche in contemporary American design.
Their most recent residential project is this pavilion on Shelter Island, just north of the Hamptons, built for their own use. Art and architectural history collide at the Shelter Island House, yet the end result is not so much quiet homage but riotous celebration, a fusion of many inspirations that creates a truly unique whole
Noting that some of the most innovative and influential structures in the history of modern architecture arose out of the desire to bring mass production methods to domestic design, the architects set out to ‘explore the reality of the industrially produced materials and methods of our time.’ It’s surrounded, for the most part, by 100+ year old farmhouses and stands out, as one neighbor crudely put it … ‘like a turd in a punchbowl.’
The first thing that strikes you about the Shelter Island complex is the apparently chaotic jumble of planes, walls, roofs and windows. For once, this fragmentation owes nothing to the ultra intellectual deconstructive tendencies of the 1990s, but to the simple desire to abstract elemental forms, creating a composition that is both harmonious and vibrant, more akin to a cubist painting. The latter quality also comes from the colour, for Shelter Island is perhaps the most polychromatic project we have ever seen.
The architects point out that colour has always been integral to modern architecture, a prominence cloaked by the prevalence of heroic black and white photography in the early years of Modernism. Shelter Island showcases a host of colour combinations, using both pigmented materials and new paint technology. Walls, ceilings, floors, inside and out, every planar surface has been given a unique hue, an approach that has been extended to furniture, furnishings and art. The overall effect is belligerent but remarkably harmonious, turning every vista into a frozen composition.
The house is laid out as two independent pavilions around a pool, one containing a master suite, the other a kitchen and living area. This explicit – and acknowledged – reference to Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion is then given a contemporary twist, with the plan skewed by two intersecting axes. Tilted over-sailing butterfly roofs and walls extend out from the living space into the poolside area, serving to distort and expand the true extent of the space. Furnishing is minimal and in classic modern style – a spray of Bertoia chairs and furniture by Knoll, while colour blocked art by Kenneth Noland and Ellsworth Kelly appears to have been made for the space.
Peter Stamberg and Paul Aferiat have their friend David Hockney to thank for the fact that the Shelter Island, New York, retreat they designed for themselves is an unabashed synthesis of stylistic and theoretical influences.
“He told us something so liberating in the way we approach design,” says Stamberg, recalling a weekend visit to Los Angeles at a time when Hockney was contending with critics about his own relationship to Picasso and Cubism. “He said he always knows how great an artist is by how great the artist is he copies.”
“Color is about making the space respond to light.”
Architects tapping the masters for inspiration is convention—far rarer is a design road map so freely annotated. The principals of New York City’s Stamberg Aferiat Architecture grew up on Long Island, where a Marcel Breuer house near their respective towns lit the formative spark—and then seeing Charles Gwathmey’s 1967 residence for his parents in Amagansett caused both, as teenagers, to envision themselves as architects. “It really began with that,” says Aferiat. They first collaborated in 1976, starting their firm 13 years later. “By that time we had become obsessed with the idea of putting everything we knew of art and the art of architecture into making our own defining object.”
The house—two volumes totaling 1,100 square feet—occupies a flat, verdant site overlooking a meadow, just inland from Coecles Harbor. A charge of color and form lassoed with rational coolness, it is an architectural feat requiring an all but clearing of the senses to fully process. The main volume of the steel-framed structure encases the living area and the east bedroom; also a parallelogram and also oriented toward the pool set in a concrete “plinth,” the smaller volume comprises the west bedroom. Walls are vertical at the primary spaces and leaning planes (after the works of Richard Serra and Ellsworth Kelly) where they enclose the pool and, off the living area and the east bedroom, the raised garden and reflecting pool.
The floor plan took shape on a trip to see the reconstructed Barcelona Pavilion (Mies van der Rohe’s 1929 masterpiece) the partners made right after acquiring the property. “It hit us on the plane going over,” says Aferiat. “We wanted to take Modernism from the teens and ’20s and reanalyze it in terms of where we are now. The glass box had been done. We wanted something more plastic, more fluid—but just as ordered, not deconstructed.”
In their plan, each plane corresponds to one at the Barcelona Pavilion, the first internationally recognized building in which floating planes defined volume. Hewing to Mies’s distinction between structure and enclosure, Aferiat and Stamberg substituted translucency for transparency (“the reality of where and how we live as opposed to an abstract concept of domesticity that never really panned out,” Stamberg explains). They also went with non-posh materials, corrugated aluminum being more suitable for a country setting, more textural and more conducive to painting than marble and travertine.
Muses aside (though here again, Hockney’s voice reverberates), the house’s heartbeat is its application of color. The decision, the only one they debated, was made not to limit themselves to one part of the spectrum but go completely around it. “Color is about making the space respond to light,” says Aferiat, remarking on the “thousands of shades” they could have chosen versus the ones they did, which don’t absorb or deaden light but amplify it. In its prepainted stage, the house had a luminousness from the reflective metal. “We were very conscious,” he adds, “not to lose that quality—or its equivalencies: color elements in the landscape that also reflect light.”
Multipaneled polycarbonate walls (insulating and wind braced by the exposed steel frame) extend light throughout; at night, the house becomes a softly glowing lantern. As in Barcelona, the roof overhang of the larger volume touches down on a wall extending from the smaller one. Hovering on canted, thin steel columns, the green butterfly roofs rise and dip, causing the ceiling in the loftlike living area to expand from seven feet to over twice that height. The curved steel beams allow for long cantilevers, and overhangs join with geothermal heating and cooling in a package of sustainability.
The translucency and unit dimensions of Maison de Verre, the low ceiling heights of Fallingwater, the opaque street elevation of Richard Meier’s Hoffman House. Le Corbusier’s sweeping roof at Ronchamp. Matisse’s exquisite range of colors in Luxe, Calme et Volupté. “As artists,” observes Stamberg, “our whole world is derivative.” However emphatic a distillation of ideas this project represents, there was one he and Aferiat deemed inapplicable. “Philip Johnson cautioned young architects against trying to put everything they know into that first building for themselves. But we’re not in our 20s, and we’ve made a lot of architecture. Everything of us is in this house.”
Peter Stamberg and Paul Aferiat developed a practice that includes educational, commercial, and residential design. Intentionally a small, atelier-style firm, they are currently working on several commercial and residential projects.
Their company is known for creating a synergy between the art of architecture and the client’s needs. Having both trained in the modernist tradition, their work is based on cubist artistic theory and perspective issues. It employs the use of color as a positive emotive force.
The firm has been included in a museum exhibition at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh and in the Rizzoli publication Folds, Blobs, and Boxes. Stamberg and Aferiat’s work has been published extensively in the United States and internationally.
Peter Stamberg attended Columbia University, Rhode Island School of Design and the Architectural Association of London Graduate School of Architecture.
He received his Bachelor of Fine arts in 1972, Bachelor of Architecture in 1973, and AA Grad DIPL. in 1975.
He began his architectural training in the offices of Davis Brody and Associates.
He has written two books and has authored and been the subject of many magazine articles. His Cardinal Dotts chair is in the Contemporary Design Archive of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York.
His “Cardinal Dotts” Chair is in the Contemporary Design Archive of the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York.
Paul Aferiat attended Carnegie Mellon University, where he received his Bachelor of Architecture in 1975.
He began his architectural training in the offices of Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer and Giorgio Cavalieri.
He later worked in the offices of Richard Meier and Partners Architects, on projects that included the Suarez Apartment, the Aye Simon Reading Room in the Guggenheim Museum and the Hartford Seminary Foundation.
In the office of Gwathmey Siegel and Associates he was the associate in charge of the American Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, New York, Westover School in Middlebury, Connecticut, and other commercial and residential projects.
The two met in October 1976 at the opening night gala at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York.
Their collaboration began in 1976, and Stamberg Aferiat Architecture was formed in 1989.
Knoll – Salsa lounge ( sofa / chair ) collection (1994)
Architects Peter Stamberg and Paul Aferiat’s colorfully accented, wood-framed Salsa lounge collection changes from dramatic to conservative with different finishes or configurations.